Growing up in the midwest, I’m used to farmland — mile upon mile of corn growing in neat rows like soldiers. Living in the southeast these past thirteen years, I’ve grown accustomed to the vibrant colors of spring and summer in this region’s crape myrtle trees, azaleas and magnolias. I admit, every time I drive south to Florida, I get excited at the first palm tree sighting though their graceful fronds no longer surprise me.
In the American southwest, though, cactus is king. While there are a few varieties that flourish in North Carolina, it’s not something I’m used to seeing every day. So, when Ellie and I went to Tempe, we made sure we had ample time to explore Desert Botanical Garden.
Desert Botanical Garden, nestled amid the buttes of Papago Park, has featured succulent plants since 1939. It is the only botanical garden in the world to focus solely on desert plants, including rare, threatened and endangered species from around the American Southwest.
Desert Botanical Garden’s five trails feature a variety of topics. The Desert Discovery Trail showcases desert plants from around the world. The Plants and People of the Sonoron Desert Trail (my personal favorite) illustrates how desert plants are used in culture and for food and tools. The Sonoran Desert Nature Trail (Ellie’s favorite) shows the relationship between the desert plants and animals. A beautiful trail, the Harriet K. Maxwell Desert Wildflower Trail showcases the brilliant colors and diversity of desert wildflowers. The Center for Desert Living Trail suggests sustainable strategies to live with nature.
Mom Says – Kids Say: Desert Botanical Garden
Typical of this winter, Ellie and I visited Arizona during a cold spell (highs in the 50s, lows in the upper 30s). We discovered how cold the desert gets after dark! Be sure to pack a sweater or light jacket if visiting in the evening. Wear comfortable shoes as some trails are not paved. Allow four hours or more to visit the garden. We suggest late afternoon and evening, as the changing light magically transforms the landscape — we found ourselves whispering, even though we didn’t need to.
I recommend the Desert Botanical Garden to anyone visiting the southwest, especially if it’s your first visit. Admission is pricey, but a family can easily spend a whole day here. Outside food is not permitted in the park so eat a hearty meal before arriving. Onsite restaurants offer meals, snacks and beverages.
NOTE: You can bring bottled water with you. In fact, the staff and volunteers recommend you bring plenty of water, hats, comfortable shoes and sunscreen!
Throughout the park, interactive signs explain the desert landscape. Wildlife, mostly birds and jackrabbits, is abundant. We actually saw a hummingbird sitting still! Amazing! The wide trails, not all of them paved, are easy to navigate and stroller friendly. Benches and shade canopies offer comfortable resting spots.
I thoroughly enjoyed watching my daughter discover the desert landscape. Giant Saguaros towered over her, making her giggle… “They’re just so big, Mommy!” Take your time — allow a minimum of four hours — and discover something new.
Ellie absolutely loved Desert Botanical Garden, except for how cold it was (I’ve been told it was one of the four coldest days of the year). She says,
There are tons and tons of cacti. There are lots of different types of cactus. Never touch a cactus unless they are safe to touch (Good advice, Ellie). Every plant has its own beauty. Look for the special beautiful flowers or things.
Ellie also noted that Chihuly in the Garden, on display through May 18, has awesome glass art that lights up at night and looks like magical fairies. She recommends making your way back to the “boat of penguins.”
Plan your visit to Desert Botanical Garden
- The Garden is located at 1201 North Galvin Parkway, Phoenix, AZ 85008.
- General Information: 480.941.1225 / dbg.org.
- $22 for adults
- $20 for seniors
- $12 for students (13-18 and college with ID)
- $10 for children 3-12.
- Children 2 and younger and Garden members are admitted free.
BUDGET TIP: Garden admission is free the second Tuesday of every month, from 8 a.m. – 4 p.m.
BUDGET TIP 2: Admission to Desert Botanical Garden is included in “Culture Pass,” a free pass available to Maricopa County library card holders.
The Garden is open daily (except July 4, Thanksgiving Day and December 25) as follows:
- Oct. through April: 8 a.m. to 8 p.m.
- May through Sept.: 7 a.m. to 8 p.m.
Confirm hours at their website before going. The Desert Botanical Garden sometimes closes early for special events.
We arrived at the Garden at about 3:00 in the afternoon. We left for home about 8:00, mostly because we got cold. It’s a serene place, but not so stuffy that kids won’t enjoy it. The key is remembering to explore at their pace, stopping to let the roadrunners run across the path or to watch the jackrabbits scurry through the brush. Coordinating our visit with the Chihuly exhibit added to the enjoyment. Desert Botanical Garden offers special events year-round. We recommend coordinating a visit with a special exhibition (sometimes additional fees are required).
What would you most want to see at Desert Botanical Garden?